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‘Government of Nigeria must not allow new manifestation of apartheid in Africa’

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Prof. Bola Akinterinwa


Former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, in this interview with DEBO OLADIMEJI bares his mind on the resurgence of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, including Nigerians, in South Africa. Akinterinwa, who is currently the President/Director General of Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), says the Federal Government should not allow the apartheid policy to rear its ugly head in another form on African soil.

What do you think of the resurgence of xenophobic attacks in South Africa?
Since early this week, we have had renewed xenophobic attacks on foreigners particularly Nigerians in South Africa. The attacks that are shown in videos and are circulated clearly suggest that the brutality of the apartheid regime is not as terrible as the brutality being meted out to Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa. In other words, we can consider the apartheid policy of the apartheid regime as fair when we look at the inhumanity expressed by African people as epitomised in black South Africans.

The manifestation of xenophobic attacks against Nigerians angered the people of Nigeria such that every right thinking person now says enough is enough. They are now talking about the need to retaliate; that the need for reciprocity as a policy has become imperative to the extent that the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) had to go on the streets to demonstrate. Even the generality of the people decided to attack South African businesses.

The attacks also prompted the government to quickly send a special envoy to South Africa, probably in preparation for a meeting between Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari and his South African counterpart. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had also summoned the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria for briefing on the situation in South Africa as distinct from report on the social media. The Nigeria government decided to hear directly from the government of South Africa as well as its own High Commissioner to South Africa. In other words, the government of Nigeria wants to have the two sides, the two interpretations.  So, while the government of Nigeria is still waiting for the report of its special envoy, it has listened to its own accredited ambassador, the High Commissioner to South Africa.

But what I will say is that it is most unfortunate that the government of South Africa will come out to the public and say there was no loss of lives, that no Nigerian was killed. And the Minister of Foreign Affairs will quickly buy into that and become the megaphone of that type of hypothesis. Relatives of people killed, who were mourning in their various homes, were reported in the papers. It is normal for the government of South Africa to deny; a government will normally deny things like this in order to cool temper. But the relatives of the victims will not.

Also, the embassy of Nigeria does not have the necessary means to know the whole story. It is the story that was brought to his knowledge as told by Nigerians there. Do Nigerians living in South Africa know themselves all? They do not. So, for the government of Nigeria to be saying that no one was killed when people are coming out to say the contrary is most shameful. That is the summary.

What do you think has been fueling xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa?
That is a very difficult question. All I know is that what was responsible for previous xenophobic attacks have always been there as a factor. It has never been gotten rid of. I have always argued that the South African people, I won’t say all of them, but some of them have phobia for Nigeria and Nigerians. Phobia for Nigeria in the sense that they want to disabuse the mind of the people of the world that Nigeria did not do anything for them during the anti-apartheid struggle. And therefore they make efforts to simply bastardise anything Nigeria. They don’t believe that what Nigeria claimed to have done was done on the basis of altruism. They simply thought it was done for commercial, economic or business purposes, not in the sense of African brotherhood and dignity; for the protection of the Black man.

So, they do not know the meaning of the place of Africa in Nigeria’s foreign policy. They know very little about the fact that Africa was made the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy in 1960. They don’t know why Prof. Adebayo Adedeji recommended for acceptance that Africa be changed from being cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign policy to the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. So, if South Africans deem it fit and if they still do know that Africa is the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy, then they would have known that Nigeria is second to none in the defence and advancement of the whole people of Africa. And particularly in terms of non-enslavement of the black people. We are championing the dignity of the Black people of the world, especially against the backdrop that Nigeria has the largest concentration of Black people in the world. It is as simple as that.

In this case, the government of South Africa does not have the correct evaluation of what Nigeria stands for. Those who are bringing xenophobic attacks to the doorsteps of Nigerians legally residing in South Africa wouldn’t have in anyway engaged in such attacks if they have known and if they have understood.

Another factor that is responsible for xenophobic attacks is the South African environment itself. It is a crime and violent-ridden country. Crimes are at the highest level. In the whole of Africa, South Africa is leading in criminal activities. So, in this case, the government of South Africa has not been able to suppress violent crimes to a manageable proportion. So, that can partly explain the attacks on Nigerians.

I will try to explain within this context that you see Nigerians living in South Africa because of their disposition to hard work; because they believe that hard work will lead to enjoyment of life. In this case, they earn money and they live big. They dress very well and this makes them very attractive to South African women. So, if South African men feel Nigerians are taking their wives, taking their women and so on, which woman will not like a good man?

So, some Nigerians there are rich; they live well and they also take good women in South Africa. Why would you want to take bad women when good women are there? This they do. But the situation has led to envy. They are saying these are foreigners and they are threatening us. They take our jobs and women. And South Africans are certainly lazier than Nigerians. In this case you can expect such attacks on Nigerians.

Another factor is that the South Africa actually has the problem of not knowing what their problem is. Because if they do, literature has proved that the Black South Africans are not in control of the economy. It is still majorly a white dominated economy. Black South Africans can be in power; they are members of the ANC. But the economic power belongs to the white South Africans who are still controlling the land, especially the more arable parts. The industries are still being controlled by the white. The Black South Africans are still under oppression. But people do not always talk about that.

So, when they see other foreigners coming in and living better than them in their own country, if you were one of them, wouldn’t you also raise questions? But they allowed their perceptions to wrongly lead them to attacking their benefactors, which are Nigerians. So, instead of having alliance with Nigeria as benefactor, and with Zimbabwe, Zambia and all the countries in the Southern African region that fought tooth and nail to dismantle apartheid, they see them as enemies. They don’t see them as allies in their fight against the enduring remnants of apartheid policy.

Now, what has the government of South Africa, done to resolve the problem? How many of the people that have perpetrated these social ills, the brutality carried out against Nigerians, have been punished? At best they will say they have arrested some people over what has happened.Another factor is at the Nigerian end. Has Nigeria been able to sanction or to reciprocate South Africa? When they kill Nigerians, the same Nigerian government will come to be telling the story of South Africa in Nigeria. Why wouldn’t the South Africans continue killing Nigerians and other foreign nationals mercilessly?

At the end of the day, when you look at the general overview, you will discover that many other countries are taking more discernible actions against South Africa. Many Nigerian artists like Tiwa Salvage have indicated that they will not participate in the Delicious Festival holding in South Africa on September 31 in protest. In Zimbabwe and some other countries, they have banned the rendition of any South African song; that is at the level of government.

You mean that the Federal Government has not taken any decisive action against South Africa?
A decisive action will be taken when they get the report of the special envoy. But other countries have taken some significant steps or decisions to tell the world that South Africa cannot go on like that.

The people living legally in South Africa are supposed to be protected, especially if they are also Africans. The African Union (AU) rules necessarily require that they should be well protected because African leaders are talking of continental integration. Any citizen of member states of the AU has the right to live in any part of Africa. So, if the South African government has not been able to give adequate protection to the interests of all African people living in South Africa legally, it has failed. And because it has failed, xenophobic attacks continue to thrive because there is no one to nip them in the bud.

The AU appears to be helpless on this issue. What is your take?
There are many challenges the AU is facing. The belief of the AU is that South African government has jurisdictional competence over internal security. It is the exclusive responsibility of the South African government to ensure that international functionaries working in South Africa, all foreigners and all those that are engaged in menial jobs in South Africa are well protected. It is taken for granted.

In fact, the concept of a state in international law and relations is clear that you must have a population over which the power of sovereignty will be exercised. You must also have a territory well delineated. You must also have a government, not just ordinary government, but a government that will be capable to enforce the internationally contracted obligations. If a country signs an international agreement, if they sign a treaty even in the context of gentleman agreement and there is no government that is effective enough to implement the obligation, then it is not a state so to say.

South Africa is a state by contemporary definition because it is expected that it will be able to ensure national security. The AU believes that South Africa does not have any problem in containing terrorists within the country and violent criminals; that it should be able to deal with them. That is one major reason.

The second major reason is that the AU cannot be said to have the necessary wherewithal to maintain intra-African security as a whole. They cannot! What do you expect from the President of Somalia, which has been a sort of internal tug of war? What do you expect to have from Algeria that has just removed its president forcefully? What about the problem in Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, The Gambia and The Sahel? People are fleeing away from Syria now to Africa. Has Nigeria succeeded in maintaining national security? You are dealing with Boko Haram on one side, the IPOB is threatening in more serious manner and the herdsmen mayhem is there. All these are problems.

When you cannot maintain internal security, how dare you come out in public to be talking about continental security? So, are you going to ask the AU leaders who are not able to financially sustain development in Africa and that largely depends on the European development partners for more than 70 per cent of their development projects, to deal with the security problem in South Africa?

What is wrong in Nigeria taking South Africa to court?
You can take anybody to court. It is not a big deal. You can take South Africa to court but we rely heavily on the acceptance of South Africa to answer. South Africa is a sovereign state. You can call attention to the irresponsibility of any given state like South Africa. But who will implement the decision if South Africa refuses.

I give you an example. We have the case of Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan. He was charged to court by International Criminal Court (ICC). He did not accept to go there to be tried. His country stood by him. The AU even argued that they did not want any sitting president to be taken to the ICC. Now there is solidarity among African leaders that a sitting president will not be charged. How do you think that they will change and charge South Africa to court? No! This is why at the end of the day, if anybody is talking of how best to deal with xenophobic attacks, let the proverbial saying that heaven helps those who help themselves be applied. Nigeria’s government must help itself first of all.

The government of Nigeria must not allow a new manifestation of apartheid in Africa. Xenophobic attack for me is the new phase of apartheid; it is an effort to turn South Africa into what it used to be. Rather than wait for a new version of Ronald Regan’s principle of constructive engagement, which is what the whole world will be looking forward to, I think the people of Nigeria must make a point very clear to the government of Nigeria that truly enough is enough if Nigerians are not going to turn against the government of Nigeria.

Is Nigeria’s withdrawal from the World Economic Forum taking place in South Africa not a strong signal to South Africa that enough is enough?
It will only serve as a protest if Nigeria decides not to participate in the World Economic Forum. By not participating, you are also denying yourself of the knowledge and experiences you are to acquire there. So, you have to look at non-participation from two angles. When you participate you renew your acquaintances with your colleagues. You have the opportunity to argue for and against. You have the opportunity to know what your neighbours are also talking about. You can argue that after the meeting the report will be sent to you but I can tell you that reports are hardly 100 per cent. What the rapporteur considers as most essential is what they will know. But the gerrymandering, the jokes and the arguments that are not considered during the meeting you will not be able to have that. In this case, if we did not participate, it has positive and negative impacts. When you deny yourself the opportunity of participating, you wait for third party report and not direct reports that will be witnessed by our president if he was there. So, not participating is just to protest that we are angry. Without Nigeria others will continue with the meeting.

We are not losing anything if we fully take a decisive measure. Thereby sanctioning South Africa or otherwise. Not going to the World Economic Summit is a form of sanction. This meeting, reservation has been made for all the presidents attending. Money has been incurred to make their room reservations; everything is ready. In their programme, the name of Nigeria would have been included to do XYZ. Now when you refuse to go, where do you put the cost of preparation?

Another way of looking at it is to say as George Orwell put it, “All animals are equal but one is more equal than the other.” So, if all animals are equal but one is more equal than the other where do you put Nigeria?

If Nigeria is not participating, what is the implication for Africa? Let me just remind you of what Robert Mugabe, former President of Zimbabwe said. He said that Africa without Nigeria is vacuum. If African countries are going to the World Economic Summit to say something, it is good. But it can never be as good as when Nigeria will be attending.

How best do you think Nigeria should approach the case?
Let government use the rule of reciprocity in whatever agreement it is going to reach with them. It should be made clear that any attack on any Nigeria in South Africa is necessarily an attack on all other Nigerians wherever they may find themselves. From this perspective, let them know that should this occur again, South Africa will be made to account not only for the excesses of their government but also particularly those of the citizens. That will send a correct message to everyone.

Don’t you think that Nigerians in South Africa should come back home?
There is nothing bad in asking them to come home. The proprietor of Air Peace has suggested that as from yesterday (September 6), any Nigerian seeking to come back home they would give them aircraft accommodation free of charge. So, the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa has been told and the mission is waiting for Nigerians willing to come back home. So, the logic is clear. If you are not wanted why are you staying there? On the basis of new directive, we will see who wants to still stay there.

Do you see what is happening in South Africa as the backlash of globalisation?
Technology has made the world a global village. We are now talking of integration. A pastor cannot come to the pulpit and be telling the congregation that Jesus Christ is good, let us follow him and then go outside to be doing precisely the opposite of what he is preaching. In the very same way, Victor Uwaifo told us in one of his songs, do what I say and not what I do. He knows quite well that what he is doing would not be consistent with what he is saying. What he is saying is the ideal thing, but what he is doing is far from the ideal.

In terms of regional integration, I am simply saying that the AU is preaching the sermon of African integration, continental unity, continental brotherhood and togetherness. As a matter of fact, another South African leader, Thabo Mbeki, came up with the principle of African renaissance, African rebirth. That is what Mbeki has been talking about. This is what the whole of AU is talking about. This is exactly what the AU Agenda 2063 is all about. The main apostle that has been preaching integration is where we have xenophobia; the same country of Nelson Mandela. This is a contradiction.


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